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UCLA graduate students to stage protest in support of recently fired UCSC TAs

Hundreds of students marched to the Fowler Amphitheater on Monday to vote on whether to strike in solidarity with 54 recently fired UC Santa Cruz graduate students. (Lauren Man/Daily Bruin)

By Samantha Fredberg

March 2, 2020 11:28 pm

More than 100 UCLA graduate students voted to strike Thursday in solidarity with the 54 graduate students from UC Santa Cruz who were fired for withholding grades.

Graduate students at UCSC began a union-unapproved strike in December in an attempt to increase their wages as part of a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. In their second strike, which began Feb. 10, graduate students refused to teach, grade or hold office hours.

UCSC announced last week that it would provide Master of Fine Arts and doctoral students with a $2,500 retroactive housing supplement if teaching assistants turned in grades and resumed their duties. Fifty-four TAs continued to withhold undergraduate fall grades and were subsequently fired from spring appointments by the University of California Office of the President on Friday.

The Ucla4Cola organization rallied in Portola Plaza on Monday and marched to the Fowler Amphitheater, where it discussed potential striking options and voted unanimously to strike Thursday for one day.

Dylan Fitzwater, a UCLA graduate student in anthropology, informed the crowd of other potential responses to UCSC. Other options included rallying, demonstrating, occupying a building on campus and shutting down bus routes, he said. Long-term options included striking for more than one day and withholding grades from students.

Graduate students voted for a daylong strike. Fitzwater led the vote and announced that the strike would take place Thursday alongside other UC campuses pursuing protests, including UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara.

“We cannot afford to live here,” said Zak Fisher, president of the Graduate Students Association and a law student at UCLA. “Rallies like this are happening on a weekly basis now and something must be done.”

Graduate students supporting cost-of-living adjustments have rallied several times at UCLA over the last two weeks.

Some of the graduate students who voted are not employed by UCLA, and others raised concerns that those who are employed by UCLA may decide not to join them on the picket lines.

Toby Higbie, a UCLA history professor, warned the crowd that although more than 240 faculty have signed a nonretaliation statement, strikers may still experience backlash.

“It’s not very difficult to sign a letter saying you won’t retaliate, and I wouldn’t pin my hopes on that,” Higbie said. “It’s not the faculty that would retaliate, anyways. At UCSC, it was the Office of the President.”

Many graduate students were concerned about losing their jobs. Graduate students at UCSC were paid for their work even through their strike – up until they withheld grades last week, said Sonya Rao, a UCLA graduate student in anthropology.

Rao said it is safe to assume that graduate students’ jobs are safe up until the point of withholding grades.

Rao added support from both graduate and undergraduate students is strong enough to successfully execute a strike. She cited a survey in which 98% of the 500 UCLA undergraduate student respondents said that they would support the graduate students’ actions.

On Thursday, TAs participating in the strike may either cancel their classes or teach their classes by the picket lines.

A recent protest at UC Irvine turned violent when police intervened, said Diana Gamez, a graduate student at UC Irvine who attended the rally. Similarly, at least 17 graduate students at UCSC were arrested at one of the February protests after it turned physical.

“If you all don’t feel like you’re ready (to strike), you are,” said Cierra Sorin, external president of UCSB’s Graduate Student Association.

She added other UC campuses will support their decision.

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